The innate immune system is essential for maintaining health and it plays a pivotal role in several human diseases. Great progress has been made towards understanding the basic principles of innate immunity, in particular through the identification and characterization of its sensing receptors – the core of innate immune signaling pathways. These receptors, also known as Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRRs), detect foreign microbial molecules that arise during infection and, in turn, initiate defense mechanism to protect the host against pathogens. However, studies over the past years have also revealed several important aspects of PRRs that require an expanded view of their biological function. As such, some receptor systems are not restricted to detecting microbes but can also respond to aberrant self-molecules and participate in various biological processes. In this regards, innate immunology currently develops beyond its traditional borders with important relevance for understanding the functioning of the organism as a whole.
Research in my laboratory focuses on the immunorecognition of DNA, with a particular emphasis on the cGAS-STING signaling pathway – a pivotal PRR system (Fig. 1). Over the past few years, we have contributed to establish new insights into the functioning and biological relevance of the cGAS-STING signaling pathway. Our current work aims to address pertinent questions in the field of innate DNA sensing with a special emphasis on defining its function in physiological contexts that fall outside its classical, infection-associated realm. We envision that our research efforts on innate DNA sensing will eventually allow us to develop new therapeutic concepts and we are actively pursuing research into the emerging translational domain of innate immune sensing pathways.